ESPN Will Lay Off 100 More As Network Continues Its Evolution

Bristol-based ESPN will lay off 100 employees by year’s end as the sports media giant continues to reshape its workforce in response to evolving audience demands, according to multiple reports.

The job cuts come amid an uptick in hiring across ESPN’s digital platforms, including the planned spring 2018 launch of ESPN Plus, a direct-to-consumer streaming service that will carry thousands of live sporting events.

An ESPN spokesman declined to comment on the layoffs, which were first reported by Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch. Deitsch said the network’s long-running SportsCenter program was expected to be hit hard. The network has 8,000 worldwide employees, including about 4,200 in Bristol.

ESPN has been squeezed by changing consumer habits and the rising costs of contracts to carry live sports. As millions of Americans cancel cable contracts and opt for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, ESPN has seen its subscriber count drop from 100.1 million in 2011 to 87.2 million this year, according to Nielsen data.

Jim Miller, a writer who has covered ESPN extensively since the 1980s, said the next couple of years will be critical for the network.

“Sometimes we need to look back in order to understand that a certain period of time was one of dynamic change,” he said. “In this case we know it. We’re watching it in real time.”

Miller said thousands of people moved to Connecticut to take jobs at ESPN and, “for so many decades,” its culture and identity “was one of unbridled growth.”

“Now reality has caught up with them in terms of all myriad of challenges,” he said.

In April, ESPN laid off about 100 journalists and on-air talent, including popular figures like longtime NFL reporter Ed Werder and MLB reporter Jayson Stark, who had spent 17 years at the network.

“Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent — anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play — necessary to meet those demands,” ESPN President John Skipper said at the time.

Those layoffs came after 300 jobs were cut in late 2015, two-thirds of those in Bristol.

ESPN has also taken steps to attract a younger audience, one that often shies away from cable television, with mixed results. A partnership with Barstool Sports, a sports and lifestyle blog geared toward college-aged men that features content some find objectionable, was ended last month after one show.

The hiring of Katie Nolan, a 30-year-old sports personality who hosted a popular late-night show on Fox Sports 1, was seen as another appeal to millennials. The network announced this week that Nolan would be getting her own podcast and digital show on ESPN.

ESPN’s parent company, The Walt Disney Co., on Thursday reported lower fourth-quarter revenue and profit.

Net income of $1.75 billion, or $1.13 per share, was down about 1.5 percent from the same quarter in 2016 and missed Wall Street estimates, according to a survey of analysts by Bloomberg News. Revenue of $12.78 billion also was off from last year’s fourth quarter and came in below analysts’ estimates.

Still, shares jumped 3 percent, to $105.89, in morning trading Friday after Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger told analysts on a conference call that pricing for ESPN and Disney-branded services will be “substantially below” what Netflix charges.

Iger expressed his confidence in ESPN’s future in spite of the challenges it faces over cord-cutting. He said the networks will benefit once viewers of its programming on digital platforms can be measured more accurately and sold to advertisers.

“We’ve never lost our bullishness about ESPN,” Iger said. “The brand is strong. The quality of their programming is strong.”

Courant staff writer Stephen Singer contributed to this report.

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